Feb. 9—Tye Linser doesn't have to be reminded of the importance of the semistate.
As a freshman at Fishers High School, Linser reached the New Castle Wrestling Semistate at 113 pounds, losing in the opening round to Perry Meridian's Alex Cottey. Linser had reached the semistate after taking fourth at the regional and Cottey was a senior regional champion. After ousting Linser, Cottey went on to reach state and win the state title.
Linser moved to Western as a sophomore and again reached the semistate, this time at 120 pounds, and this time at Fort Wayne, the semistate for Howard County's contingent. Again he fell in the opening round. Last year as a junior 132-pounder, he lost in the opening round to a wrestler that advanced on to state.
Do those experiences help him now, as either motivation, or to show him the level he needs to reach?
"I'd say both, and this is kind of the moment I've been waiting for since last semistate," Linser said. "I've been training really hard for it."
That 2023 semistate loss stuck with him ever since. He's thought about it, and will think about it, "every day until Saturday."
Saturday he can put that memory behind him. Saturday is this year's semistate date, and he's among 21 Kokomo Tribune-area wrestlers who will take the floor at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum on the north side of Fort Wayne, one good day away from a berth in the State Finals.
The top four wrestlers at each weight class at the semistate qualify for the IHSAA State Finals, which will be held this year in Evansville on Feb. 16 and 17.
Those semistate losses have been hard to take, but they've led him back to this point, this opportunity. Now a senior, he's headed to the semistate round for the fourth time, looking for a breakthrough that has eluded him.
"It humbles you and makes you want to really push yourself and practice harder to get to that level," Linser said.
"Early on, when you're a freshman wrestling seniors, the age difference is pretty tough. They're a lot stronger than you and I'd say most of them have better technique than you at the time."
A senior now, Linser is now the one who holds those advantages. The Panther 132-pounder enters with sectional and regional titles under his belt so far this postseason and takes a 29-2 record into the semistate.
"I've seen it all over the past three years and I've prepared for this moment, and I'm ready to punch my ticket this year," Linser said.
To get to state, wrestlers must win their opening two matches at the semistate. The attrition rate is high, as 75% of semistate wrestlers are eliminated short of the state finals. That reality creates a lot of pressure.
"The last three years, there was a lot of stress and I had like a mental breakdown," Linser said of his semistate road blocks. "But this year I'm feeling more dominant about it and it's kind of like any other tournament, you just have to go out there and wrestle hard."
That's the attitude he wants to keep when he's on the floor at the Coliseum.
"I would say [at the semistate], just to not get in your head, and wrestle like it's any other tournament you've been to before," Linser said. "Don't put the pressure on yourself."
Linser has been piling pressure on opponents in the postseason. After pinning both his sectional opponents in the first period, he dominated the regional level just as thoroughly. Linser was one of only three champions at last Saturday's Peru Regional to pin all three of his opponents, and the only one who flattened each rival in the first period.
"I'd say all positions I feel like I'm a lot more dominant this year than I ever have been," Linser said.
This is the last week he has to wait for the semistate to come back around. Is the week difficult to wait out or exciting?
"A little bit of both, but definitely more exciting," Linser said. "I'm ready."
Also headed to the semistate are four more Panthers: 113-pounder Brady Shannon (23-18); 120-pounder Tanner Tishner (30-2); 138-pounder Liam Bumgardner (19-6); and 157-pounder Mitchell Betz (33-1). Tishner and Betz also won regional titles last week, and both were state finalists last year.
Kokomo's contingent includes regional champion Jalen Sawyer-May (11-0), 138-pounder Gabe Newland (36-14), 144-pounder David Conner (42-7), and 190-pounder Chad Washburn (50-2). Sawyer-May and Washburn reached state last year.
Maconaquah is represented by 120-pounder Brayden Raber (32-5), 126-pounder Alex Ousley (28-9), 150-pounder Ty Galvin (29-7), 175-pound regional champ Ethan Farnell (36-1), and 190-pounder Austin Ringeison (29-7). Raber was a state finalist last year.
Peru's entries in the semistate are 132-pounder Glen Baldwin (22-13), 150-pounder Isaiah Korba (17-17), and 285-pound regional champ Trevi Hillman-Conley (28-5).
Tri-Central has 175-pounder Cory Dowden (34-6) and 285-pounder Patrick Kinney (35-3) in the semistate field.
Representing Cass is 132-pounder Eli Bowyer (26-7) and representing Eastern is 215-pounder Andrew Cavazos (30-6).
Sawyer-May, Betz and Tishner were each semistate champions last year.